Thank you for all the feedback from my last post on the subject of the next road trip. A couple of questions keep cropping up about how I have found out so much about my two Grandfathers’ Army service, so I thought that I had better explain.
First up is Grandfather William; here I had a bit of a head start and it is he that I have found out most about. Obviously first hand family history is always a good starting point and I was very fortunate that my late Grandmother told me so much about him. In William’s case though, I also came into possession of a very interesting book that was written just after WW1 detailing all the actions and movements of his combat unit during the Great War period. The book was written by one of the Officers of the 94th Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery and was distributed to all the unit’s survivors after the conflict.
It draws upon the war diaries of the unit and gives details of locations, action, targets and sadly the casualties, that the 94th Battery experienced. Alongside the book is a map that accurately shows exactly where the unit was during the whole of its time in France, the details of this map can be accurately plotted on modern maps and looking at Google Earth, amazingly some of the gun locations can still be seen! Guns such this 9.2 inch howitzer, seen here in action on the Somme; note that it took four men to lift the shell, no ear defenders in sight either!The next bit of good fortune was to be able to obtain William’s Army Service record from the National Records Office. This was a real stroke of luck as unfortunately nearly three-quarters of the historic artillery records were destroyed by Nazi bombing during World war Two. William’s survived, just, because they show signs of burning around the edges! Putting the information from these two sources together I was able to build a pretty good picture of William’s service history, from signing up in 1915 to discharge in 1919. The detail was sufficient that I have been able to virtually say where he was on any specific day and what he may have been involved in. He joined the Army on the 11th December 1915, was posted for training on 8th April 1916 and by July 1916 he was involved in the Battle of The Somme, which all seems amazingly rushed! During the summer of 1917 he was wounded during an artillery duel near Nieuport, but soon returned to frontline service until evacuated back to England in April 1918. He was posted back to mainland Europe and served in the Army of Occupation during 1919. Sadly, in the case of Grandfather Charles we know a lot less. It has been a tad more difficult to find out much beyond the sparse accounts we have from what he told family members. Like many veterans of war he didn’t talk an awful lot about his experiences. Unfortunately his service and unit records were amongst those destroyed by Goering’s bomber boys in WW2. From his medals and medal record card we know that he served with 188 Battery, Royal Field Artillery. Here we see men of the RFA trying to manoeuvre one of their 13 pounder guns in the bottomless mud of France.There are some pretty useful general records of where 188 Battery saw action, but nothing like as much detail as the RGA book. I know that after the Battle of The Somme his unit was later involved in that other WW1 slaughter at Passchendaele, the Battle of Ypres, in 1917. Was one view into hell not enough? So that’s it for now, I do hope that you find this small snapshot of family history interesting. Like I said previously, just two ordinary soldiers who survived the worse conflict in history. Heroes? Well certainly not in their own eyes, but to me they stand with their comrades among the greatest heroes in history. Their fight with the enemy was not personal, indeed they shared a common lot and sadly many would share a common fate. Yet they did what was asked of them, they lived, fought and died for each other and just some, the lucky ones, came home again. Heroes? Undoubtedly!
“I’d heard fool-heroes brag of where they’d been,
With stories of the glories that they’d seen.
But you, good simple soldier, seasoned well
In woods and posts and crater-lines of hell,
And still you whisper of the war, and find
Sour jokes for all those horrors left behind.” Siegfried Sassoon
Catch you all soon. Dookes
PS If anyone is interested, the book I referred to is:
“Siege Battery 94 During the World War 1914-1918” by Major Charles Berkley Lowe. It has now been published now in paperback by The Naval and Military Press in association with the Royal Artillery Museum ; ISBN 1-845740-88-2